What’s on tap for this week: Change as Opportunity?

Library 2.0 Ripples, originally uploaded by davidking.

I just got turned on to this diagram by David Lee King (I know, see how hopelessly behind the times I am?), and I think it’s an excellent one to ponder.

I work at library where the clash of new blood versus entrenched interests has created no small amount of controversy (unfortunately, sometimes with my involvement) and so this is a topic near and dear to me.

Additionally, we are building a Learning Commons, and as at most institutions, this is also proving to be a catalyst for change.

I woke up this morning to find Meredith‘s link on FriendFeed to her presentation for the Southeast Florida Library Information Network conference keynote, “Riding the Shift: Organization 2.0 and the Future of Libraries”.

Again, this really spoke to me personally because of the changes our library is facing.

On one hand, it’s a very exciting time. However, I’ve noticed that tempers are high, nerves are frayed, and there’s a territorial defensiveness that is arising all to frequently throughout the institution.

So, even though I don’t have readers yet– I’m hoping to find some answers. The questions I want to look into and wrestle with are:

1. How have other libraries who have undergone a major shift like a Learning Commons renovation dealt with this change on an organizational culture level? Have there been retreats, staff trainings, discussion forums, “town hall” style meetings, etc.?

2. Beyond a physical change but more generally, what are some of the best practices for helping organizations tackle the shift to opening up their library, allowing for fuzzy lines of job distinction, accepting feedback from all levels, and encouraging innovative thinkers?

I realize that these are not new questions, especially in the blogosphere. However, many libraries and library folks are struggling with these questions still. Hence the popularity of the “BIGWIG” crowd as conference presenters.

So, after a rather discouraging recent situation in my own workplace, I got home last night to read this article by Michael Casey and Michael Stephens in Library Journal, “Check Your Ego At The Door“. I think this article offers a few good places to start.

I especially liked this point: “appreciate those who bring issues and problems to your attention”. Granted there is some self-interest here, because I tend to be one of these people. However, I think it highlights an important shift of thinking that anyone, library or not, can practice to help “ride the shift”.

In my own life, I’ve always had a very optimistic view of problems, I think of them as “challenges” or “opportunities”. Granted, this can sound trite or new-agey, but I really don’t mean it to be. I’ve simply found that when we experience conflict or resistance, rather than looking at it as a purely negative thing–it can be considered a “road sign” telling you that something is about to happen.

Of course, that could be something you don’t want. It could be that you receive a confirmation that the change you’re hoping for is not right for your organization at this time. But that is valuable information, it can tell you what to do next: build a support system, talk about creating cultural change mechanisms, find another job if necessary, etc.

My point is that whether you get what you want or not, it at least helps you deal with ambiguity. You can gain enough information to decide if it’s worth it to stay and keep plugging away, or perhaps there’s another place for you.

Organizationally, this can work very similarly. If you allow some experimentation and it doesn’t work out– there is staff resistance, your community responds negatively, etc. Then at least you know that it’s not right for you at this time. And you can go to work on the next question– why didn’t it work out? It may be that the change just isn’t for you, and if so, that’s fine. It may be that you have some work do among your staff first to explain why such changes are needed or desired (and there you are– another opportunity!).

Being from outside the library field originally, my background includes hacker culture and radical political activism, in addition to years of studying eastern philosophy, it’s very easy for me to handle this. However, I want to find ways to make it easier for library culture to handle this. Change still makes people and organizations nervous, and that’s tough. While some of it can be avoided, it will be easier if there are ways to make it less tough.

So, in addition to looking into the questions above, I guess that’s MY next “opportunity”.